Saturday, June 12, 2010

The point of no return

With page 276, I have officially reached the halfway point of this endeavor. "The point of no return." Even though I've been thinking about this for a few weeks, it has yet to sink in. As soon as I finish the illustration for page 277, which should be posted some time this evening, I will actually be closer to the end of the book rather than the beginning. Part of me is still in shock.

It's not that I doubted myself. Even way back in August of last year, when I started this project, I knew I would finish. I just didn't have any real frame of reference for how I might feel when I reached that point, or even when I reached this halfway point. I mean, I know I'll be 80 years old some day, but right now I have now idea how I might feel or what I might be like when I get there.

So far, this journey has really been every bit the surreal, exhausting, thrilling, terrifying and unbelievable trip I thought it might be. However, one thing does stand out, more than anything else, and that is how visible this whole thing has become. I never, ever, ever expected that. I've told many people this, in emails and in person, but my decision to put all of this art online, in a blog, was motivated entirely by my desire to share the art with a few friends and family members out of state. That's it. It wasn't some kind of secret plan to get famous or to sell art or anything. I was just kind of excited about this, and I wanted a few people I cared about to be able to see it.

It's been really incredibly strange to me how many new people, and in some cases new friends, have discovered this project. I'll be honest, it's sometimes a very tricky thing. So far I've been able to stay very focused on my own internal vision of Moby-Dick and to create these illustrations from that place, without worrying about what people would think, whether or not people would like it, and so on. But I'll be honest, it is sometimes impossible not to at least be aware of the fact that now I am creating art that I know a small community of people are going to look at regularly. It's I said, a very strange feeling for me.

It's not that I am not grateful, because I am. I'm very grateful to every single person who visits this blog, whether they comment or just check out the art. It means a lot, and it's very humbling. Everyone has been incredibly kind, supportive, encouraging, and genuinely friendly. But I'm not sure if I'll ever get used to it. Really, I've been drawing pictures and making art since around 1998, and I've been completely and totally obscure up until now. And that was (and still is) fine because I never set out to have a career in art. But so much has changed with this project, and it's really been weird. Good weird, but weird.

I fear I am rambling so I'll stop. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking of the momentous post I would write when I got to the halfway point. I figured it would be best if I just sat down and cleared my head a bit. It's really exciting for me to reach this milestone, and I am even happier when I look back at all the art I've made so far. I really like the art! Sure there are a few pieces that make me cringe a bit, a few things I wish I could re-work, and so on. But all in all, I am really very happy with what I've made. It all looks pretty cool, and that was my biggest goal when I decided to do this. To make illustrations for Moby-Dick that look pretty cool.

Before I get back to work tonight, there are some people I would like to thank. As this project has grown bigger and bigger, as more and more people have found out about it, there are a few people whose love, friendship, support and encouragement have really been crucial to me, especially during the times when I was near exhaustion or staring at my weathered reflection in the bathroom mirror, splashing cold water on my face, and asking myself "What the hell have you done?"

First and foremost to my incredible, brilliant, beautiful wife. She has been there every step of the way, she is the first to see every piece, the first to give me honest feedback, and the first to help me up when I'm stumbling or fading. I have had to sacrifice so much of my time with her to work on these pieces every single night, and she has dealt with the solitude with grace, dignity, love and unwavering dedication. She knows how much this means to me, and she has done everything humanly possible to help me achieve the goal. Without her, I would have flamed out around page 10.

Gigantic thanks to Seth Fishman. He knows why, and hopefully you will all know why as well, soon.

Thanks to the artist Zak Smith who created one illustration for every page of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. I'm never sure if Zak was the first person in the world to do something like that, but he was definitely the first person whose work I became aware of, and he was a huge inspiration for my own project.

Additionally, thanks go to good friend and artist Shawn Cheng who was one of the very first people to notice my art and has been a constant source of support, encouragement, advice and friendship to me for years now. Shawn and Zak along with the artists Sean McCarthy, Matt Wiegle, John Mejias and Craig Taylor are currently working on a project entitled Six Versions of Blood Meridian, creating an illustration for every page of that novel. I'm not sure if it's still ongoing or on hiatus, there hasn't been any new art in a while, but it is well worth looking at. Obviously, another huge inspiration to me since they began well before I did.

Thank you to Meg Guroff who runs the web site Power Moby-Dick, a completely annotated, full text version of the novel and a wonderful conglomeration of all sorts of Moby-Dick related ephemera. Meg was the very first person to contact me about this project, way back around page 5 or 6, and she was also the very first person to interview me. I visit her site every single day and learn something every time.

Thank you to Scott B. down in Georgia. Scott was the very first real person, not a blogger or an interviewer, to write to me about this project. His emails have been a constant friend throughout these 9 months and he never fails to make me smile. He was also able to track down for me a copy of the tiny abridged version of Moby-Dick that I first read as a child, which he sent to me as a gift.

Thank you to the brilliant artist Jeffrey Meyer who kindly shared with me volumes of advice on collage techniques and has been huge source of inspiration for me. If anyone out there deserves to have a massive art book of their work published, it is Jeffrey.

Thank you to good pal Brian Stevens, my grumpiest, most curmudgeonly, and paradoxically kind-hearted friend. He's been a bit of a patron of the arts to me over the years, and I believe he actually owns more of my original art than anyone in the world. Probably even more than me.

Thank you to my old college friend Tobin Becker who, in an offhand remark in an email, actually sparked me toward attempting this project. I think of him often as I work.

Thank you to Michael Lapides, the Director of Digital Initiatives and the Curator of Photography at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. He too was one of the first to reach out and contact me, and he has been kind enough to share my project on the museum's blog as well as to offer advice and encouragement through these months.

Thank you to Aaron Cael, one of the two people behind the blog TITLEOFMAGAZINE. Aaron did a great interview with me but, even better, painted an awesome and massive portrait of me on found wood which now hangs in my studio.

Thank you to Jamie Hook, curator of the Open City Dialogues lecture series in Brooklyn for inviting me to come out to the city and talk about my project. I was so nervous, but the talk went really well and I met a lot of great people.

Thank you to Hannah Stephenson, an amazing poet and the woman behind the blog The Storialist wherein she writes poetry inspired by images found online. Her gifts are prodigious, and she actually wrote a poem inspired by my illustration for Page 115. Something like that has never happened, and it is strange and wonderful to see something I made inspire someone else to create something so beautiful and unique.

Thank you to William Terrell, of the November In My Soul blog. His emails, while rare, are fascinating and heartfelt and he too has been a real companion on this trip.

Huge thank yous to the fantastic artist Sophie Blackall, a fellow Moby-Dick obsessive whose art and illustrations just blow me away. She has been kind enough to write and encourage me, which is crazy because she is so good, but the emails mean an awful lot.

Thank you to Daryl L. L. Houston who was kind enough to invite me to join his online group read of Moby-Dick and to post about my art over at his Infinite Zombies blog. It's been great fun to be able to write so extensively about my art, and Daryl has been very kind in giving me so much latitude over there.

Thank you to every single person who has purchased my art over the last few months. I use cheap art supplies, but they ain't free, so it's been an incredible relief to be able to sell some pieces and not sweat it when I have to make a run to Dick Blick's.

Thank you to everyone who interviewed me, blogged about this project, linked to this blog or my web site, and just in general wrote nice things about me on the internet. I'm certain every one of those things was instrumental in bringing people here, and I owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

Finally, and most importantly, sincere thanks to everyone who has visited and continues to visit this blog, everyone who has ever left a comment, and everyone who has ever sent me an email, even if it was a quick one to simply say "This is a cool project." I never knew how much that kind of thing would mean to me, and it has really been an honor to be able to share this with you all. I am only halfway there, so I do hope you will continue on with me for the rest of this journey. It will be no easy path, but I hope I can reward you all somehow.

Alright, back to work in the studio...


  1. Hurray! Worthy of celebration, certainly.

  2. I've been watching for about 3 weeks now. Just wanted to say that I find your project awe inspiring and its great that you linked to so many of your own sources of inspiration.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Thank you Hannah. Actually, I am very glad you left this comment because you were one of those I wanted to make sure I thanked. I wrote down a list at work, but I left it at my desk Friday afternoon so I went from memory. Your poetry, your comments, and your encouragement have meant a great deal to me. I have since edited the entry and made sure you were thanked. So...thanks! Again!

  4. JK, thank you, and I am very happy you have come to visit. No project, especially one of this scope, is possible without a lifetime of inspiration and a wide circle of friends and I have been very fortunate to have both. It really is true that none of this would be possible without them.

  5. Bravo, Matt! The half way point is an interesting place to be. A long wake behind you to contemplate and review, and unpredictable seas, atolls, islets and icebergs ahead. I remember in childbirth they called this bit "transition" a strange calm after the onset of labor and before the wild and intense last stretch. I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to the second half of your Moby Dick very much!

  6. Sophie, thank you very much, those are wise words indeed. I have never ever attempted anything like this, so these are still stormy and unknown seas for me. At times, I feel so close to the end, and at others it seems so far off that I ache. I am very grateful for you encouragement though, and hope to share many more wonders in the chapters ahead.


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